The Limits of the Recipe

A version of this piece originally appeared in German in the Slow Food Magazin 04-2017.

IMG_20170618_144755_594As a college student, I ate a lot of green-brown stew. I may have had different plans, but for a while, everything I started cooking ended up as the same sort of undistinguishable concoction. I did not yet have the understanding of how different ingredients behave in the pot, and how I could maintain their distinct textures and flavours. Recipes were of no great help when the stove was lit and all types of things were gurgling here and hissing there, distracting from the instructions in small print in the recipe book – if it wasn’t too late for those already. It was frustrating, because I would have liked to eat something other than greenish mush, something that more closely resembled the appetizing pictures in the cookbooks. If I did indeed cook from a book, because I rarely could actually afford to buy a whole set of ingredients as required by the recipe at the time.

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A thought by Claude Lévi-Strauss

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Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) was an anthropologist and ethnologist and is sometimes considered the “father of modern anthropology”. In his work The Raw and the Cooked, he points to culture as the transforming factor from the natural raw state to the cooked, or otherwise processed, state.

This connection between cooking food and human civilisation is also strongly argued in the book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham. Spoiler alert: cooking makes digesting food easier, so we can use the nutrients faster and can put more energy into our brains rather than our stomachs. That is the reason why I don’t support all-raw diets… that, and taste.